Can’t believe it’s been a year since I saw these boys!!
Can’t believe it’s been a year since I saw these boys!!
Enjoy this picture of pissed-off Jim and Frank I found a while ago
Look @ these boys!!!
Happy 52nd anniversary to Frank and Jim- the greatest space duo of all time
A CHRISTMAS HOMECOMING – On December 18, 1965, Gemini 7 astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman returned from a two-week voyage in space, splashing down in the Atlantic about 6.4 nautical miles from the targeted landing point. Soon U.S. Navy frogmen from the USS Wasp were there to pick them up. As Frank Borman recalled, “We’d been in the water about ten minutes when we saw a Navy frogman’s face in the right window. He plugged in his inter-phone, and his first words were ‘Merry Christmas.’”
December 18, 1965 – Gemini 7 astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell return from two weeks of zero gravity. They’re tired but alright. Says Lovell: “The chief symptom – in fact, the only symptom – which we noticed, was a heaviness of the legs. That’s all.”
December 18, 1965 – After a two-week jaunt in space, Gemini 7 astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman slice into a huge space capsule cake as part of a welcome-home party aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wasp.
Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone
Let’s pretend that we’re together all alone
I’ll tell the man to turn the jukebox way down low
And you can tell your friend there with you he’ll have to go
-”He’ll Have to Go”, Nat King Cole
I know everyone here knows about Gemini 7 already, but I feel it was so critical to the entire program, almost more so than the others, that I have to write about it for its anniversary. Also, Borman and Lovell are such treasures that I have to include them in something.
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Turn and Face the Strange Ch-Ch-Changes
Alan Shepard, America’s first man in space, was scheduled to also fly the first manned Gemini mission with Tom Stafford. Little did Deke Slayton, the Chief Astronaut and guy in charge of crew assignments, know how much things would change in a year. Originally, the Gemini crews were as follows: GT-3 Shepard/Stafford; GT-4 McDivitt/White; GT-5 Schirra/Young; GT-6 Grissom/Borman; and GT-7 Conrad/Lovell. Of the five, GT-4 was the only one that stayed. Why? Shepard was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease- a condition of the inner ear that causes dizziness, nausea, and unbalance. There was no way Shepard was flying anymore. He was grounded and thus earned the nickname “Icy Commander”. Slayton made him his assistant and the two of them sorted things out with the crews. Why they couldn’t’ve stayed the same, I have no idea. But personally, I like the change. The new crews were as follows: GT-3 Grissom/Young; GT-5 Cooper/Conrad; GT-6 Schirra/Stafford; and finally GT-7 Borman/Lovell. And thus Frank Borman and Jim Lovell became crewmates with America’s first spacewalker Ed White and Mike Collins as their backups. Thanks, Al and Deke.
Jim and Frank in their blue flight suits and flying helmets and a model of their Gemini spacecraft
Out of Order
If six comes before seven, then why did seven fly first? Gemini 6′s primary objective was to rendezvous with an Agena target vehicle while orbiting the Earth. Agenas were launched by Atlas boosters, the same kind that launched men into orbit during Gemini’s predecessor, the Mercury program. Atlas rockets were known to be unpredictable- at one point they had a one in three success rate. The launch of the Agena happened to be one of the twos and the rocket and its payload exploded during launch. Instead of waiting for a new Atlas and a new Agena, and most importantly, a new launch date, NASA decided to launch the prepared mission, Gemini 7, before Gemini 6 (6 wouldn’t launch until the end of 7′s flight but that comes later). And thus, Gemini 7 launched on December 4, 1965, from Launch Complex 19 at Cape Canaveral, Florida and became the tenth manned American spaceflight.
Launch of Gemini 7 from Launch Complex 19, Cape Canaveral, Florida
What’s Up, Doc?
Before the Skylab flights sent up actual medical doctors, such as Joe Kerwin and Ed Gibson, into space, Jim and Frank were NASA’s guinea pigs. The medical and scientific communities had mixed feelings about a fourteen-day mission. Some thought the twins would be in pretty bad shape. Others thought they would die due to the strain put on the heart after spending two weeks in space. Remember, this was 1965. Mankind had only been flying in space for four years. The US pretty much entered the Space Race like it was a taking a test for a class it only payed half-attention in. After all, NASA stands for “Not Absolutely Sure of Anything”. Two weeks was a long time. Could their hearts last that long? Will their vision start to deteriorate? Will their legs work when they’re back on Earth? If any of these questions received a negative response, which was “yes” for some and “no” for others, depending on the topic, the lunar flights would be off.
Other types of doctors, particularly psychologists, worried about how their minds would be effected after two weeks cooped up together in a volume as small as the front seat of a VW Beetle. Their boss Deke was worried about their egos as well. Two test pilots from different military branches this long together? Nevertheless, Frank credits Jim’s “wonderful sense of humor” for being a key factor in preventing them from losing their sanity. Fifty-two years later, the infamous twins are still close. As Frank, who was never one for being soft, said, “If you can’t get along with Jim Lovell, you can’t get along with anybody. I so praise God every day that it was Jim that I got to spend fourteen lovely days in space with.”
Frank sits as two scalp electrodes are attached to his head that will measure electrical activity of his cerebral cortex during weightlessness
Frank using the visual activity device and mouth thermometer while in space
Let’s Pretend that We’re Together All Alone
Since this mission was ultimately really mundane, the two came up with ways to entertain themselves. They each brought along a book to read- Mark Twain’s Roughing It and Walter D. Edmonds’s Drums Along the Mohawk – and chose them specifically because they had absolutely noting to do with space. However, Frank and Jim are also well-known for something else: The pair formed the first singing duet in space. Every day, they’d sing Nat King Cole’s “He’ll Have to Go” together. That little stunt became one of the best-known parts of the entire two week mission. Sharing isn’t always a good thing though: During the first few days of the flight, one of them lost his toothbrush, forcing the two of them to share one for the remainder of the flight (which was well over a week although no one knows exactly when the toothbrush was lost, how it got lost in a tiny Gemini capsule, or where it was ever found). At first, it was scheduled per the flight surgeon’s request that at least one them have their suit on at all times- one would wear his for a while and then they would switch. These G5C spacesuits were designed and worn specifically for Gemini 7. Though they weighed less than the traditional Gemini suits, they were bulky and uncomfortable, so the crew wound up not wearing them most of the mission. They also got quite warm, particularly for Lovell who was the larger of the two. So yes, these two esteemed test pilot turned astronauts (and future moon men) orbited the Earth in their underwear. However, they put them back on only during the rendezvous with Gemini 6A and reentry, as it was and still is mandatory for crews coming home to wear their full pressure suits.
We’re Sirius About this Rendezvous Thing
The rendezvous would’ve been performed earlier in the mission if it wasn’t for a rocket that refused to get off the pad. Gemini 6A’s rocket had ignited while on the pad but never took off. If it’s commander, Wally Schirra, had blown the hatch and bailed, it would’ve damaged him, his crewmate, and the spacecraft itself. In the end, Wally stayed put and ultimately saved the rocket. Finally, three days later on December 15, Gemini 6A took off to meet with Frank and Jim in Gemini 7. Less than four hours into his mission, Wally saw a bright object that he believed to be the star Sirius. It was in fact Gemini 7 in the distance. After a series of burns made by both spacecraft, the two met up. The distance between the two went from as far apart as 130 feet (40 m) to as close as only one foot (30 cm). All while zipping around the earth at a whopping 17,000 miles an hour. This was precision flying at its best. The space program had some a long way from chimpanzees being shot into space on sub-orbital flights. In fact, NASA was now the in the lead in the Space Race. The US had performed not only the first manned rendezvous in space, but the very first rendezvous in space period. Along with Jim and Frank’s long duration flight, NASA was the world leader in spaceflight and the closest to getting to the moon.
The crew of Gemini 6A, Wally and his crewmate Tom Stafford, along with Lovell, all went to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. So Wally, being the jokester he was, decided to pull a little gotcha on Frank, who went to West Point. At one point, Wally stuck a sign in the window that read “BEAT ARMY”. Just a harmless prank to ease the tension of the critical and deadly task they were performing. However, Borman decided to read aloud what he wished the sign said and proclaimed it to say “BEAT NAVY”.
Gemini 7 taken from the window of Gemini 6A
Another shot of Gemini 7 taken from Gemini 6A
And You Can Tell Your Friends There with You, They’ll Have to Go
By the time GT-6A left and returned home to Earth when the rendezvous was over, things had gotten pretty bad for GT-7. They had three more days left to go and their only company was no longer with them. They could read, but it was too distracting inside the capsule to focus on the book. They could sing, but they’ve sung that same song for the past week and a half. They could ask CapCom how things are back on Earth, but even CapCom has limited knowledge of what goes on outside of Mission Control. Even the malfunctions -some of the thrusters not working and the fuel cells only giving their partial amount of power- weren’t enough to add excitement to their rather boring flight.
Jim and Frank finally returned to Earth on December 18, after nearly two weeks in space. This record would remain unbroken for five years until the Soviet mission Soyuz 9 in 1970. As for the US, NASA wouldn’t break the record set by Gemini 7 until Skylab 2 in 1973, which lasted almost a full month. Less than a decade later, men would pull an eighty-four day spaceflight as part of Skylab 4. Gemini 7 and her crew was picked up by the USS Wasp and landed only about six miles from their target. It was evident that fourteen days in zero-g had taken a toll on their bodies: Both Borman and Lovell reported having a bit of trouble walking in the beginning as well as unbalance, but that would be typical for crews to experience in the later years as the flights got longer. Additionally, the capsule had been sealed up for fourteen days straight and therefore had a strong unpleasant odor that lingered with the crewmen afterwards. Both of them compared the flight to spending fourteen days in a men’s bathroom.
I mentioned earlier that Frank claims that it was Jim’s sense of humor that kept their morale up. Humor seemed to be a critical part of spaceflight, especially when you’re reminded that you could die at any given moment. But Frank and Jim wanted to prove to the doctors who thought they were going to die that they were still the same astronauts who left Earth two weeks earlier. And what better way to do it then using humor. One of the running jokes of Gemini 7 is that Frank and Jim, after having spent so long together in space, wanted to get married when they got back home. As Lovell put it at the Salute to Apollo talk in July 2017, “Well, as a matter of fact we got down after fourteen days and we’re on the carrier, the first thing we did, we looked at each other and we said, ‘we just wanted to announce our engagement!’”
You’re Gonna Go Far, Kids
Gemini 7 was the most important mission of the Gemini program. There were four major objectives of the program; EVAs (spacewalking), rendezvous, docking, and long duration. If we couldn’t perform spacewalking, we’d find a way around it. If we couldn’t rendezvous and/or dock, we’d most likely use the lunar direct ascent protocol and those like it. However, long duration was the make it or break it for Apollo. If human beings couldn’t even survive the trip to and from the moon- including a few days on the surface-then that was it. The program was over. Without Gemini 7, NASA never would’ve known if the body could function that long in zero-g. But wait, there’s more. The first manned flight to the moon, Apollo 8, didn’t even have spacewalking, rendezvous, or docking. Now granted, every other Apollo mission following that one did, but the first did not. And interestingly enough, it was Borman and Lovell who would go on to fly that mission three years later with Bill Anders. Additionally, it was Gemini 7 that initially thrust the US into the leading spot in the Space Race and Apollo 8 that secured it. The entire Gemini program is immensely important and should be focused on more in spaceflight history. But you gotta give proper credit to Gemini 7.
Frank and Jim, now both eighty-nine years old and still going strong (and joking with each other), with Fred Haise and Walt Cunningham at Salute to Apollo talk in Oshkosk, Wisconsin- July 28 2017
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Ok let’s be honest; I really only wanted to write this because GT-7 is my favorite Gemini and I want more people to know about it. And I love Jim and Frank.
Titles: “Turn and Face…” -lyircs to song by David Bowie; “What’s Up, Doc?” -Bugs Bunny; “Let’s Pretend” and “They’ll Have to Go” -lyrics to song by Nat King Cole; “You’re Gonna Go Far” -title to song by The Offspring
Info: astronautix.com; Project Gemini by Steve Whitfield; nasa.gov